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Joe Hideo Morita

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To be the 16th generation of a famous family with a recorded history going back 400 years bestowed stature on Joe Hideo Morita. He is the eldest son of Akio Morita, who cofounded Sony Corp. He always knew he would carry on from where his father left off, and recognized that in leadership quality he was like his father.

Joe, the name given to him in England, is a forthcoming man, definite, imaginative and successful. He said, “This is my bad habit: If somebody asks me for help with something, I never say no.”

Nine years ago, Joe and his wife, Hiroko, became the parents of triplets. Two of the three were born with mental handicaps. Both parents say sincerely that their handicapped children give them something valuable that “not many people can expect: a double vision of the world.” They consider their own lives enhanced.

Joe went to a small boarding school in England when he was 17. Unable to speak English and behind the other boys, yet in his second year he was made head boy. From England he went to the University of California to study agriculture economics. He said, “Our traditional family business was in food, and I was very interested in agriculture and food supply.” In Japan again, he earned his master’s degree in education at Ashiya University.

Versatile and a music lover, he began his own career in music production and promotion at CBS/Sony Records Inc. Half a dozen years later, he became director of Morita Co., the family business manufacturing and marketing sake, miso, soy sauce and condiments. His family, based near Nagoya, has assets in many locations. Joe undertook the management and development of the Arai Mountain and Spa in Niigata, the first in Japan of world-class resorts of its kind.

As he spread his interests, Joe showed strong support for sports. He has a ski and golf resort in Colorado, and a fishing and adventure lodge built on a barge in Canada. He helps advance sociohistorical research in his chairmanship of the Raykay Foundation, and helps support students through scholarship grants in his chairmanship of the Morita Scholarship Foundation. He set up the nonprofit organization Dolphins Pacific in Palau.

“The president of Palau asked me for alternative ideas to golf courses for the island,” Joe said. “I wanted to make a nature paradise, without chemical fertilizers. We have a dozen dolphins there in the world’s largest area of natural seawater pools. It is fully accessible for waterproof wheelchairs. Visitors can go up to the water to get close to dolphins and play with them. I always had this kind of interest, not just because of my children.”

Three years ago, Joe was appointed president of the 2005 Special Olympics World Winter Games. This movement began in a small way in 1963, when Eunice Kennedy Shriver, sister of President John F. Kennedy, held a camp for mentally retarded people in her garden. Witnessing that many of her campers benefited from sports and physical activities, she founded Special Olympics five years later. As her concept of the worth of sports spread, in time the International Olympic Committee recognized Special Olympics. Today Special Olympics is active in more than 150 countries, and has more than 1 million athletes taking part and 750,000 volunteers helping.

Every year, 30,000 volunteer-driven local events take place. Every two years, Special Olympics World Games are held. Next year, for the first time in Asia, at the venues used for the 1998 Nagano Olympic Winter Games, the Special Olympics World Winter Games are scheduled. Joe endorses the sentiments of the organizers: “Maybe the athletes will not achieve the highest results, maybe not the fastest, but in their way they will be the best.”

He agrees that it is the spirit of sports that counts. The Special Olympics movement believes that “sports can change the lives of handicapped people and their families. Rejection and shame can change to pride. The athletes can feel maybe for the first time that they count. The most powerful change we see is a change of attitude. Special Olympics is not an event, but an idea. It doesn’t end with the Games.”

Joe, his wife and his three children have always been happy. “My fear is not that my children are disabled, but that parents die first,” he said. “I want the whole world to be nice to my children, and treat them as human beings.”